Helios 44-2: First Impressions

(All photos in this article were taken with a Helios 44-2 58mm on a Nikon D750 body.)

Two weeks ago I bought an old Helios 44-2 lens on Ebay to use with my d750. I’ve heard about these old Russian lenses in the past and finally decided to take the jump and experience them for myself. Here are my first impressions.

I grabbed a prop and hit some nature trails near where I live to test the lens out. It was a bright sunny day, so I was interested in seeing how this lens would perform under harsh lighting conditions. 

At first I was taking snapshots of leaves and plants along the trails to see how well the lens would perform. Like I had seen in example photos along the internet, the bokeh was incredibly smooth. The color straight out of the camera leaves a little to be desired, but I can’t tell if it’s an overall issue or something I only experience when shooting towards the sun.

The swirling bokeh background that this lens creates is nothing short of incredible. I would be lying if I said that it wasn’t a big factor in my decision to buy the lens. I haven’t shot any living subjects with it yet, as I’ve only had it for one day, but I’m excited to do so. 

Lens flares seem to be an issue with this lens, so it’s best to be mindful of the light. The lens is sharp in the center but very soft around the edges. 

Overall, I think the lens is worth every penny of the $30 or so dollars I spent on it. It’s not a lens that’s suited for every occasion, though. I would probably use this for my more creative endeavors. Something that would take advantage of the imperfections of the lens. I can’t wait to keep shooting with this lens and see what I can create. I’ll post another update after a week or so of shooting with the lens.

Planning Things Out

Typically, when a new idea pops into my head, i start with a thumbnail sketch. Thumbnail sketches are small, about an inch or two in height, and are drawn quickly without much editing. The purpose of these sketches is the same as the notes a student in class would take. It serves as a reminder of what we want to do as we flesh the project out over the course of development.

After the thumbnail sketch, refinement begins. A second thumbnail usually follows, more refined than the first time. Sometimes this happens immediately after the initial sketch and sometimes it doesn’t. Typically, the second sketch is more refined than the first and it focuses on tonal values rather than shape and line, but it’s not uncommon for there to be more than just the two sketches, as was the case for this concept I had for a shoot regarding the Allegory of Time & Truth: 

For me, sketching my ideas is beneficial because it lets me visualize what I’m imagining in a concrete form, and from there I can change what I don’t like in the initial idea. Sometimes things work in your head that don’t work on paper, literally. You can see some of the thought process changing in the example above. In the first sketch the figure leans on his elbow, but in the second sketch his arm is extended backwards and his hand rests on a globe. Below are some more examples of my process.

In this example, an old self portrait as the personification of sleep, the major inspiration was Caravaggio’s Conversion of St. Paul. At the beginning I wanted it to be a horizontal composition, but when it came time to shoot I realized a horizontal composition would be more dynamic. 

For the first time, color was a major factor in the planning process of my most recent work. Usually color is something I don’t bother using in my thumbnail sketches (I may make a note if it’s particularly significant), but for my Neoplastic piece color was the main subject so I did a quick mockup in photoshop of what my proposed still life set up would look like.

A lot of the time I find that the end product doesn’t reflect the initial sketches. Sometimes the difference between the concept and the final product are minor, but sometimes the image you create doesn’t look anything like what you envisioned, and that’s ok! Things just work differently on paper and in studio. The best part of sketching your ideas out is that even though you may not realize the final product now, you can always come back to your sketches for inspiration at any point in the near future. 

Explorations: iPhone Photography

Before recently, I never put much thought or effort into serious photography with my iPhone. It was good for snapshots and nothing more. But as I open my eyes to more unique and nuanced styles of photography, I find myself interested in the photographic capabilities of the iPhone and it’s contemporaries. 

I had the idea to stage a scene between the Hermes & David busts that I’ve been obsessed with lately, set against a backdrop of iridescent blue cellophane. I wanted to add a layer of abstraction to what I was doing, so I used a prism to distort and manipulate the images. 

Figuring out the quirks of the prism the biggest hurdle. I used it on three or four separate occasions but was still never quite sure what I was going to get. 

I just played around a lot until I got something that I was happy with. Looking over the images in post, I noticed I gravitated towards a diagonal division created by the prism, which you can see in the photos above.

The prism is really good for creating interesting and dramatic images. I think creating these images in camera instead of in photoshop adds to the uniqueness and it impresses people when you ask how they were made.

People initially assumed they were overlays created in photoshop which is probably the most logical assumption, so it’s fun to describe the quirks of the process for them. For now I’m not sure how to really take advantage of the prism’s properties, but it’s an accessory worth trying out if you’re interested in abstraction.

Using Format